Wednesday, February 29th, 2012

'The Valley Of Horses': Once More Into The Breach

It is rare for Classic Trash to revisit a series. One cannot step into the same attic of flowers or coven of teen witches twice, as Heraclitus of Ephesus so memorably told us. But in a case like this, where our intrepid Ayla came so far without… actually coming at all… it behooves the society of great readers to follow her to Over The Top Pleasure Mountain. We owe it to her, guys.

Not that it was a chore! The Valley of Horses, by equine and cave-person enthusiast Jean M. Auel, is a good time. Admittedly, the NEXT book (The Mammoth Hunters) is where the real cheap fun is at—I have not seen such CRAZED SMUT since, um, those Anne Rice books that aren't about vampires. You know what I'm talking about. Anyway, if you missed our Clan of the Cave Bear session, you can catch up here. Let's get back to the love; the woman-friendly love. Jondalar, you see, is the first male character we've met who knows how to find "the nodule." Round of applause for Jondalar!

The adorable cheeseball vagina-centered Mists of Avalon-esque sexuality is such a delightful change of pace. It's a little like Philip Roth wrote the first one to afford a divorce, and then the second one was written by a bunch of chicks on the Internet who own crystal deodorant. In the best possible way, I hasten to add! I mean, we're calling sex "The Gift of Pleasure" now. Which, seriously, is that not that absolute best name for a sex toy store you've ever heard? Hey, venture capitalists, there are a lot of nostalgic YA-reading Millennials out there, and they need to buy Hitachi Magic Wands from someone, y'know?

I digress! Now, my very first coherent thought upon cracking The Valley of Horses—apart from "Jesus, Ayla, you're going to get squeamish about carrying fire-starting implements because of the patriarchy AT THIS POINT? I mean, seriously, grrrl, it's time to free your mind from the confines of your oppressors. What is this, the Panopticon?"—was "I spy a slight homage to Pride and Prejudice."

Did you catch it? Am I just programmed to spot the Divine One's hand at work in all things? Look: Jondalar is clearly a single man in possession of several leather thongs in want of a mate, and his brother, Thonolan, is SUCH a Bingley (cheerful, never holds a grudge, etc.) Can't you just picture Bingley getting gored in the groin by a rhino and being all "oh, don't spoil the party on my account!"

I was mostly convinced of the Jondalar-Darcy parallel until: "The smell of horse was strong, not from the dry wind in his face carrying their hot rangy odor, but from the ripe dung he had rubbed on his body and held in his armpits to disguise his own scent if the wind shifted." Not… so much. That seems more Wickham-y to me. And then, soon enough, we get to what y'all were hinting at in the comments last time: Jondalar's huge wang. Wow. I haven't seen such adjectives for a penis since Fanny Hill. The poor guy, wandering the earth in search of a vagina that can more easily accommodate his thunder. Hang in there, big guy! That Ayla, she can do anything. Including, in this newest installment, inventing the hairbrush and horseback riding.

I hadn't realized that our lovebirds would take half of the book to find each other, which was a mild disappointment to yours truly. In the meantime, we get lots of Jondalar's people messing with "the flatheads" for sport, which, uh, I know we're supposed to root for tolerance and everything, but the events of the last book totally soured me on Neanderthals, and I was reasonably open to wiping them out. You heard it here first: Classic Trash endorses genocide! Don't worry, Jondalar comes around in his own time, when he isn't getting with alllll the ladies. The important thing is that a lot of the rest of the book is taken up with cave-lion and horse training and fashioning baskets out of twigs, which is totally my jam.

Ayla being Ayla, right, tosses herself up on her yearling filly's back (don't do that!) and immediately manages to gallop around like a pro, bareback. Bullshit, Ayla.

Full disclosure: I am owned by a fine mare of truly epic sweetness and stupidity, who would have survived in this book for twenty seconds, as she is terrified of a) the outdoors, b) all avian inhabitants of the outdoors and c) water that doesn't come in heated buckets. If she was set free by animal-rights activists, she would search frantically for a human who could make sure she doesn't have her medium-weight blanket on too far into fly-sheet season. Come to think of it, I couldn't even slaughter and eat her in a pinch, since she's chock-full of non-food-grade supplements. She would be a terrible companion to have in Neolithic Ukraine. (<3 u, baby girl! Momma doesn't mean it!)

You know what you really don't want to have as your companion in Neolithic Ukraine? A baby cave lion. You know that's not going to end well. Trust, no one is singing Hakuna Matata by the end of this novel. Not to mention that it doesn't take a degree in psychology to figure out that being forced to leave your son with the Neanderthals, and then taking in a baby cave lion which you name "Baby" involves some unhealthy transference. It's time you found a mate. A mate who's only been lightly mauled by your "Baby."

Speaking of unhealthy, did you catch the part where Ayla watches Whinney get drilled by a stallion and gets seriously turned on? She probably would have settled for Broud at that point.

Jondalar, all in all, is a bit too much, and not just in the way we discussed earlier. He is like Feminist Cro-Magnon Ryan Gosling. Am I kidding? No. "But I want a woman, not a girl... I want her to have spirit, to know her own mind. I want her young and old, naive and wise, all at the same time." "Sometimes women who aren't perfect are more interesting: they've done more, or learned something." Jondalar, are you just trying to get in our fur-and-leather pants, or is this for real? I have a sneaking suspicion that Jondalar is that guy who takes the Intro to Gender Studies class to get phone numbers. Prove me wrong in future books, guy!


• Ayla uses "soft absorbent leather straps" to catch her menstrual flow. Why on earth would you do that? Wouldn't you use, like, moss, or something? Honestly, I'm surprised she doesn't have a Diva Cup. And then she uses a stick in the dirt to chart her cycle! There's an app for that now.

• Did anyone else keep thinking of The Land Before Time during this one? How much did you cry during The Land Before Time?

• SO impressed by Ayla's strict adherence to the Paleo diet: Dried meat! Lichen! Seaweed! Vegetables! Berries! Tubers! Occasional handfuls of grain! And she totally does high-intensity interval training. She's basically CrossFit. How many burpees could Ayla do in seven minutes?

• What would your totem be? Because this is modern times, you can select a celebrity as your totem. Like, Debra Winger. I want Debra Winger to be my totem.

• Have you tried the crystal deodorant thing? I've never gone there. I cloth-diaper my baby like a total hippie, but when it comes to my pits, I want the highest percentage of aluminum that Proctor and Gamble is allowed to put on the market.

• Is there anything worse than men who are trying to figure out the meaning of life? Seriously. C'mon, Jondalar, let's go back to bed.

• Ayla does that trout-tickling (not a euphemism) thing we remember from Danny: The Champion of the World, which I consider to be the greatest parenting manual ever written, minus the theft and the bullet-dodging. It was Dahl's favourite of his books, what's yours? I'm a BFG girl.

• Jonadalar shaves! With a flint razor. Did they actually do that? Is there any chance, however remote, that Cro-Magnons invented the soul patch?

• You've watched "Fatal Attractions," that show about people getting mauled by their exotic pets, right? Don't adopt a cave lion.

And for next time, let's have a Classic Trash for English Majors selection and do Donna Tartt's The Secret History.

Nicole Cliffe is the proprietress of Lazy Self-Indulgent Book Reviews.

48 Comments / Post A Comment

thematt (#222,196)

No no no. Very upsetting. The Secret History is not "Classic Trash for English Majors." The Secret History is classic, life-changing, instant-bonding trash for Classics majors. There are, like, eight of us you know.

@thematt I concede the point.

Oliver Miller (#9,699)

@Nicole Cliffe@facebook I freaking wore three-piece suits throughout college AND minored in Classics because of the damn book, so I'm APPALLED that you called it trash. But I can't convincingly claim that it's not somewhat trashy, ai yah!

boyofdestiny (#1,243)

@thematt I guess I'll have to save all my venom and vitriol for next week, but if The Secret History can be classified under any definition of the term "trash," then we should stop using that word, because it has no meaning.

@boyofdestiny Fear not. I come not to bury The Secret History, but to squee over it.

ru_ri (#222,491)

@thematt Nine–I was a classics major (years before this book happened)! I don't think I would admit to a fellow classics major that I had read it, but I did read it. Maybe twice. It was delicious.

@Nicole Cliffe@facebook Any chance we could have trash for Londonites/Lusters of Victorianness and read The Crimson Petal and The White by Michel Faber?

@Helen McClory@twitter A PERSONAL FAVOURITE, OF COURSE. I'm thinking "The Autobiography of Henry VIII" next, but then we can absolutely engage in Crimson Petal.

Clare (#516)

@thematt YUSSSSSSSSSS. Did you know Encore made a miniseries version? It's premiering in April.

@Nicole Cliffe@facebook Fantastisch!

@Nicole Cliffe@facebook The Crimson Petal and the White is classic trash? I never really thought of it as either. My impression was that Faber spent far too much time tut-tutting his readers for their supposed prurience for the book to count as honest trash. Nevertheless, I'm totally down with seeing it here.

Kevin Knox (#4,475)

@boyofdestiny I have to ask how long it's been since you read it, because I revisted it recently, and my memory of it was apparently quite kind. (It probably also helps that I was 23 when I read it…)
The characterizations are pretty thin in many cases, a lot of the dialogue is quite stilted, and despite the literary and historical allusions, yeah, it is pretty trashy.

worsorsop (#222,197)

Dont let me go…

melis (#1,854)




Lemonnier (#14,611)

@melis And the LIVING IN A CARAVAN

jfruh (#713)


*"It's a little like Philip Roth wrote the first one to afford a divorce, and then the second one was written by a bunch of chicks on the Internet who own crystal deodorant" is a delightful sentence that made me glad to have gotten up this morning

*"Danny the Champion of the World" is the best Dahl book by a factor of like seven bazillion

*THE SECRET HISTORY YES YES YES YES (and then can we talk about how disappointing The Little Friend was?)

Lemonnier (#14,611)

@jfruh I am SO EXCITED for the Secret History. Did you know there is actually a reader's guide for that book?

Brian (#115)

Look, people had to do SOMETHING before TV, so I believe everything everyone accomplished in these books, including the soul patch.

But I have never ever been able to visualize a spear thrower based on Auel's descriptions. She describes them in every book starting here, often more than once, and it wasn't until YouTube that I could actual figure out what the hell it was.

BoxMeowBox (#215,449)

GREAT summary, Nicole! This book is one of my favorite pieces of trash (there is one shelf devoted to trash in the Meow household, and one entire shelf devoted to what Chmn. Meow calls my "slut books").

My only frustration with "Valley of Horses" is that, in addition to learning how to start fires and train animals, Ayla really NEEDS to invent the wheel. But it's like 10,000 years too early. The back of my mind keeps saying: "See that round rock? With the hole in the middle? Pick it up!"

Download this book and search for "manhood". The other parts are just padding.

zogindax (#75,952)

I read the whole Jean Auel series in middle school (Clan of the Cave Bear was in my English teacher's lending library!!) and I cannot believe my mother let me! She must have know how inappropriate it was for a 7th grader. Here you go young girl in the middle of puberty, here is a book with lots of weird cave people sex, enjoy. They pretty much handed me my first porn on a plate.

Mental note, re-read Valley of Horses.

Czarna_Owca (#148,781)

@zogindax I, too, read the series in middle school, though I did so by "borrowing" them from my mother, who read all kinds of sci-fi/fantasy trash (Anne McCaffrey, anyone?) at the time. Actually, I read Clan of the Cave Bear with permission, the others were snuck out of the library pile.

@Nicole Cliff – I thought about the totem question a lot when I read this book. I think at the time I settled on an animal, perhaps a wolf (I was twelve and loved wolves). My modern "celebrity" totem would totally be Ruth Bader Ginsburg, though. Corollary: what special trinkets and mementos would you keep in your little totem bag like the one Ayla wears around her neck at (almost) all times? And what would the modern equivalent of that be?

bandg (#201,565)

@zogindax I had parents who were very strict about tv watching (none!) but very lax (or oblivious?) about reading material, and I read the whole series the summer before 6th grade I believe. I was thinking Clan of the Cave Bear was the one I remembered the most clearly, but after this description, The Valley of Horses was obviously the one my also-given-inappropriate-reading-material friend and I read out loud to each other during swim time at day camp laughing all the way through all the hilarious (and mortifying) sex that we could only barely understand. Not sure if no adults were paying attention or they just ignored us in order to avoid mortifying conversations with 11 year olds about caveperson coitus. Good times!

@zogindax do you remember sallah telgar in dragonsdawn and the indian guy (sorry dude i forget your name, but he renamed himself telgar after she died) they had a FUCKED UP relationship.

ru_ri (#222,491)

@Czarna_Owca OMIGOD I forgot about Anne McCaffrey! I can haz skiffy trash? What about Piers Anthony? The best/worst!

chartreusan (#222,495)

@Brooke Adam@facebook I'm not going to lie; that part never fails to reduce me to tears. But RIGHT?!? What is UP with that relationship? Unrequited, tragic love usually gets me right in the heart bone (and so does self-sacrifice for the greater good), so it took me a long time to wake up and be all, hey, wait, what?

@chartreusan i love mcaff as a child but on a recent re-read i could not understand why robinton and menolly didn't hook up. obvs they both were in love. how crappy must that have made sebell feel? oh my master and my wife are in love an she names my kid after him.

my faves are the crystal singer books, i related to the heroine and respected her life decisions.

chartreusan (#222,495)

@Brooke Adam@facebook I'm of two minds about the Robinton/Menolly thing. On the one hand, I'm all, just make out already (I can't remember which book, but it's one of the later ones in Landing where they ALMOST do or talk about it or something), but then I also think it would be squicky because of the whole mentor/mentee, huge age difference, his dad was her father figure, etc etc etc stuff.

I know I read the Crystal Singer ones, but I can't remember much about them. I had a huge dragon obsession as a kid, so I was all about Pern.

Pela (#222,698)

@Brooke Adam@facebook & @chartreusan – I just re-read The White Dragon (which was waaay slower and pretty lousy than I remembered, whatevs), and there was a teeeeeeeeeeny little bit where Menolly and Robinton have an almost-moment, but then Sebell arrives! So Menolly goes off to see him, and Robinton is doing this old-man-lament, and he knows! she knows! they know! and it's just not meant to be. And they know that too. He's too old. She's been through too much. There's too much going on in Pern. Le sigh.

(I created an account to tell you this. So <3)

TokyoPlum (#201,810)

@Brooke Adam@facebook I just re-read some of Crystal Singer and remembered why I loved it so much as a kid–so nice to have a heroine who was flawed but also gutsy. And I think it was the first time I read a story where the female lead had sex and it wasn't some enormous life-changing event.

Brunhilde (#1,225)

You want me to rank Dahl books? It totally depends on my mood, but Danny would probably win overall. But sometimes I just want to read the Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and Six More, ya' know?

Andrea K@twitter (#13,386)

@Brunhilde I feel like I see a listicle without commentary coming on… Can we agree The Witches is at least top 5? That book made me suspicious of certain large-nostrilled support staff at my elementary school for years.

Oh god I love The Secret History so much. I was just gonna suggest it but then i read it was the next one up.

lobsterhug (#66,323)

Oh lord, The Land Before Time! I wrote fanfic about it in 1st grade. All I can remember about it is that it featured Cera walking through fog and my teacher complimented me for the quality of my descriptions.

Also, I smell Ducky was like the funniest joke to me at the time. It helped balance out the uncontrollable weeping over Little Foot's dead mom.

crystal deoderant does not work (for me) but i LOOOVVVEEE toms of maine unscented. i used to think i had nasty onion pits and was gross. then i switched. no more troll. <3<3<3

i think mammoth hunters is my fave because ayla gets her jungle boogie on and learns how to say no. jondalar is all WAT? she can't say no? she doesn't love me after all! waaaahhhhhhh!!!

jondalar is such a pill in TMH

zymbalee (#222,489)

i love to read this topic …i am very excited about that information ….so i would like to thanks for this idea..thanks

zymbalee (#222,489)

i love to read this topic …i am very excited about that information ….so i would like to thanks for this idea..thanks

LexJo (#222,490)

Ahh, you're a CrossFitter! That makes me love you even more! Ayla would destroy Kristan Clever's burpee score. I don't eat Paleo, though. If I did, how could I make Jolie's glorious orzo casserole?

ru_ri (#222,491)

Man, I created a damn Awl account just to say, Nicole, you are amazing and I love you. Long live Classic Trash!

Stephanie@twitter (#211,684)

I just wanted to add that the Mists of Avalon was my favorite book as a teenager. It's kinda smutty (Lancelot/Arthur/Gwenevere threesome!!!) but like, kinda classy.

@Stephanie@twitter i always felt sorry for gwennie. poor sad closeted lace and art.

TokyoPlum (#201,810)

I remember The Valley of Horses being passed around my middle school in hushed tones–the great thing was that the cover didn't give anything away, so none of the teachers or parents knew it was inappropriate. I think I was more horrified at that age by a lot of the graphic descriptions, but when I compare Valley of the Horses sex with anything-by-V.C. Andrews sex (those books also got secretly passed around), at least the former seemed to be about reasonably healthy sex. Even if I did develop a fear of Jondalar-sized wangs.

cruelhenry (#222,934)

nice posting :-)

Kaykay (#222,964)

Omg. I loved all of these books when I was younger. My mother and I read them together when I was in high school (this should tell you a lot about our relationship). I always ended up skipping the first part of this book on rereads to get to the part where Jondalar gets there. After a while the repetitive descriptions of scenery and wildlife get really boring. It's like, please jean, no one reads these books for those parts. We're all reading for smut.

jhonpano2 (#223,601)

nice book

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